Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

“I didn’t know the gun was loaded!”

Jerry Stratton, September 29, 2005

Do I get to say I told you so? In Federalizing New Orleans, I wrote:

The implications and sometimes outright statements from the mainstream press and even much of the otherwise anti-Bush blogosphere are that the president should have exercised more authority in another state’s affairs without approval from that state’s governor. The federal government, not surprisingly and while trying to deflect criticism in this particular case, is very receptive to having that power.

In response to criticism that the federal government didn’t act quickly enough to take over New Orleans from a governor who didn’t want to relinquish authority, Bush floated granting “greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces” in response to “incapacitated” local forces, where “incapacitated” was the code word the press was using for what it saw at the time as “incompetent”.

This week, the president has taken that suggestion one step further. Bill Sammon in the Washington Times reports that:

President Bush said he wants Congress to consider putting the Pentagon, not state and local agencies, in charge of responding to large natural disasters in the future.

“Is there a circumstance in which the Department of Defense becomes the lead agency?” Mr. Bush asked members of a military task force participating in Hurricane Rita relief efforts in Texas.

“Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort?” he added. “That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about.”

In Take Back the Name, I wrote that “Governments are slow in all but one thing: they are quick to learn when their citizens are no longer liberals.” When we criticize the federal government for not exercising enough authority, such criticisms will not be ignored. That gun is always loaded.

We don’t know how far he’s going to push this, but it mirrors the expanded role for the military following September 11. In one sense, I think it’s good that he’s calling for a discussion rather than an immediate change in the law. If he had wanted to ram it through the Republican-controlled congress while public concern was still high, he probably could have. Different presidents might have been more opportunistic than floating suggestions for what congress ought to discuss.

But if we end up with a Roman-style transition to dictatorship in this country, it will be because of this unreasoning hatred, fanned by the press, that causes partisans to criticize any action taken by their political enemies even when those actions are right, judicious, and respectful of our country’s republican tradition.

In response to Should Bush have ousted Governor Blanco?: What President Bush’s detractors are saying when they say he didn’t respond fast enough is that the federal government should have taken control from the state government. The administration, not surprisingly, thinks that power might not be a bad one to have.